Last week we introduced a new feature here that will be a part of the Pittsburgh Baseball History site once it has been launched as part of our Pittsburgh Baseball Network. The first Pittsburgh Pirates Seasons article featured one of the best seasons in team history, Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler’s 1925 season. In part two of this new series, we look at a season that doesn’t get a lot of notice from a popular player on the 1979 World Series champs.
In the year following their fifth World Series title, the Pittsburgh Pirates dropped to third place with an 83-79 record. Hidden in the disappointing season was a big performance by The Hit Man, Mike Easler. I could have also looked at the season from pitcher Jim Bibby if I wanted to focus on this particular season, but I’ll save that one for another day.
During the 1979 season, Easler was used almost exclusively off of the bench. In 55 games, he had 64 plate appearances, then pinch-hit three times during the playoffs. Up to that point in his career, he had played 112 Major League games over six seasons, while also spending all of 1978 in the minors. So the 1980 season ended up being a bit of a surprise for the 29-year-old outfielder.
Easler had just 65 plate appearances through the end of May in 1980, though that came with a 1.023 OPS. He season really took off over the final four months. He posted an 1.184 OPS in the month of June, then followed it up with a .963 July, an .818 August and a .984 September/October. If he didn’t catch fire in early June, then he may not have slipped into the full-time starter role for the first time in his career.
On June 8th, Easler belted two home runs and drove in four runs in the first game of a doubleheader. In the night cap, he homered again. The next day he added another homer, while falling a double short of hitting for the cycle. Just two days later, he went 4-for-4 and hit for the cycle, capping off his night with a home run. That was followed by consecutive games with two hits and a walk, which raised him to a .414 average and a 1.335 OPS.
After playing 112 games in the majors over seven years, Easler put up a .338/.396/.583 slash line in 132 games in 1980. The only NL player with a higher OPS that season was league MVP Mike Schmidt. For his efforts, Easler finished 20th in the league MVP voting.
His .583 slugging percentage ranks 15th all-time on the Pirates single-season list. His .978 OPS ranks 21st all-time for the Pirates, just .001 behind the .979 OPS put up by Dave Parker during his 1978 MVP season.
As far that particular season, the second best hitter on the Pirates in 1980 was Dave Parker, who had a .785 OPS in 139 games. Easler was nearly 200 points higher.
Easler had his worst hitting season with the Pirates in 1981, though he ended up making his only career All-Star appearance that year. However, it was his 1980 season that was his true All-Star quality season.